The name The Systematics came about as the result or a memory lapse - I was over at Michael Filewood's place in Frenches Forest one Friday afternoon, and I was relating to him some of the fantastic names used by
Mr. Eno on the back cover of Taking Tiger Mountain (etc) to designate backing singers on various tracks, one of which was The Systematics. It wasn't, of course, it was The Simplistics, but we both agreed it was a good name, very possibly an omen... of some kind. We liked the sound, of it, punchy; it was inappropriate for any number of reasons, but it wasn't ironic, it was… parapraxial, you might say. Indeed, an everyday psychopathology managed to pursue the name all over the place in gig listings during the year we performed - systematix (ah, the gratuitous 'x' of the early 80s -the 'ur' txt?), supermatics, sistermattocks, symptomatics - I myself proudly bare the name Partick
(sic) on the cover of our posthumous release of 1982, and even years later I fancy that fellow late of Split Enz was referencing us when he rather improbably thought to assonate 'sister madly' with 'systematically' - believe me, stranger things have happened, and I bet
you think My Friend the Chocolate Cake came up with that name all by themselves...
Sometimes we practised at Chez Filewood, in the leafy, bifurcating world of trees and asphalt that made Frenches Forest both suburb and, well, forest. Nearby was one of the last drive-in movie establishments on the Australian continent - we weren't aware of its status at the time, and it plays no significant role in anything related here. Our practices were, however, conducted most of the time in leafy, rectilinear Clovelly at Chez Gibson. Once was I a northern beaches lad, but, due to a long story, I had to migrate to an eastern beach locale, and because Filewood could drive a car containing himself, Fiona, a guitar and a guitar amplifier, and because we had the house to ourselves (my parents went away every Sunday to visit my sisters and brothers-in-law and their respective broods), we tended to convene there, where we'd practice, enjoy a spot of afternoon tea, read the Sunday papers, practice a little more and then re-load the car under sunny or winter grey skies for their return trip home. Every time, before we were finished, someone would have managed to unbalance the delicate mechanism of the cistern, something that my normally mild parents always complained about upon their return. They composed a small sign, written in biro on masking tape and affixed beneath the button in dispute, "please press gently". There was some question as to how seriously something like that would be taken. Didn't they realise it was only youthful high spirits and the imperative of the rock' n' roll lifestyle to trash, if a hotel room was not immediately forthcoming, at least
something. We were good about washing up our plates and cups, though.
Our first live performance was December 1980, celebrating the 21st birthday of
Mr. John Blades. Filewood and I had recently recorded and released "Rural", to some surprisingly positive bemusement, and Mr. Blades, who was known for the decadence of his entertainments, demanded a pyramid of profiteroles to rival anything they could scrape together in the Valley of the Kings, and the first live performance of whomever it was that was calling themselves the Systematics. Fiona Graham, unlike Filewood, was someone I'd known since primary school, someone who, despite the course of events, I managed to stay in touch with during high school and beyond. She and a friend similarly placed, Joanne Fowler, wrote the words for "'Nuts to You", which appeared on the "Pulp Baby" EP. We all went to St. Cecilia's Primary - ask the nuns if that was meant to
instil in us a love of music, or a love of anything at all, for that matter. I met Michael in high school at some stage, and although he was more Ted Nugent and Roy Buchanan while I was more Frank Zappa and, er, Rick Wakeman, we both liked Talking Heads and XTC
et al, and believed we weren't quite as mind locked as we supposed some of our contemporaries to be, who were in pursuit of goals we perceived to be uninteresting and unimportant. We were intellectual snobs, of course, but who can resist it at that age?
So there we were, at John's 21st, Fiona played keyboard bass on the Roland 101, Michael played guitar on, what was it, a Strat copy? Later on he played an SG. And I sang and managed the rhythm box, or rather the Roland Rhythm Cube, kindly leant to us by Rae from
Voigt/465. Rae and a number of other people from Voigt and other concerns came along and saw us that night
- politely enough, they didn't crash the party, but stood as a shadowy mass beyond the picket fence at the back of the yard, to be encountered... anon. Everything, amps, keyboard, rhythm cube, illumination too, I think… was plugged into a wall socket in John's room, and it must have been our propitiation to the washing-up god, if not the god of cisterns, that prevented a fuse blowing and plunging all into darkness and chaos, Photographs from the night show us all (or at least me) staring at the ground, as shy as light permits, but I believe we may have been having a whale of a time.
I know John likes to think that he 'discovered' us in some sense, and he's absolutely right. For better or worse, it was at his request that the Systematics became flesh. A week or two later, we played at ICE, one of Ian Hartley's projects (considering 'punk' was, in a sense, really no more than a kind of
'punkt', lasting only in the moment of its radical 'authenticity' and disappearing at the instant of its classification or, er, systematisation… Ian Hartley was one of Sydney's first 'post punk' merchandisers - he ran the original Skin Deep emporium in the Crystal Palace Arcade where I bought an old scratchy copy of
Safe as Milk, and published Spurt, which was sort of like an Antipodean
Search and Destroy, publishing amongst other things chats with the likes of Idiot Savant (remember them?), Primitive Calculators (who used a 101 too!) and Whirlyrwirld when they paid their brief visit from Melbourne, illustrated articles on ejaculation artists and alluring ads for some mysterious film called 'Eraserhead' ...). ICE was a nasty concrete block prepared to think of itself as the coolest place in town, and the pun, I know, is regrettable. It abbreviated, I think, 'Institute of Contemporary Events', following the ICA in England where the likes of Throbbing Gristle had recently been performing, We were not TG by any stretch of the imagination, and nor were the people we shared the bill with - and it must have been their first live appearance - the
Makers of the Dead Travel Fast… and that was New Years Eve 80/81, By this time, however, I'd begun to realise the best way to spend any new years eve, and possibly the best way to spend any time at all… was to be on stage. And then, a year and a day later, the Systematics were no more!